These Poverty-Drivers Fuel the Supply of Human Trafficking Victims in Nepal

Poverty is the primary root cause of human trafficking in Nepal. But what are the causes of poverty? If solutions to address the causes of poverty were implemented, it would eventually reduce the supply of people vulnerable to the lies and deceptive promises of traffickers.

There are many causes of poverty that are easy to anticipate in any nation that has struggled to advance. In the case of Nepal, some of those causes are present, as you’ll see in a bit. But there are also some less common causes of poverty that are more unique to Nepal – especially when they operate in combination.

Understanding these causes will help you get a sense of why it’s so hard for people in Nepal to change their circumstances. The problems they face often have no parallel to problems facing the poor in the United States.

1. 10 Years of Civil War

From 1996 to 2006, Nepal suffered through a civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels. The fallout from this war and the instability it caused are still affecting young Nepalis today.

We have kids living in our human trafficking safe home who never knew their fathers, because they died or disappeared in the war. These kids grew up in extreme poverty, and if their mothers couldn’t support them, or abandoned them to run off with another man, they were left with nothing. This happened to lots of kids from that time.

The war produced a generation of kids vulnerable to human trafficking.

2. Earthquakes and Natural Disasters

Progress is hard, and takes many years. But a disaster can wipe out years of progress in a single day. The 2015 earthquakes in Nepal were one recent example.

Whole neighborhoods and businesses were flattened. Some people never recovered because they couldn’t rebuild their homes and had to take up less profitable occupations. Their families and children fell off the grid and back into desperate poverty, because the government was ill-equipped to manage any coherent rebuilding process. 2 years later, they still hadn’t made much progress.

Even the rented building WPC Nepal was using for its safe home at the time was damaged. However, this tragedy mobilized our US supporters and founder Lila Ghising to launch a fundraising campaign that led to the construction of a permanent, 5-story, 60-bed safe home facility, where we now house all the kids in our program.

As the Borgen Project describes, after natural disasters, women often become more vulnerable to human trafficking because their desperation increases and they have less protection.

Helping women and kids overcome poverty caused by natural disasters is of the highest urgency.

3. Government Corruption and Instability

Though the war ended a while ago, the Nepali government has struggled to sustain enough initiatives that will help a majority of its people escape poverty. Nepal was ranked as the third most corrupt nation in South Asia, so that certainly doesn’t help.

Infrastructure in particular continues to be a major barrier to progress, with inadequate electricity especially in rural areas, few roads, and many in disrepair.

Instability has been worsened by oppressive rulers like the Ranas and the Shah kings, according to GSD Magazine. And neighboring governments in much larger nations like China and India have continually meddled in Nepal’s affairs, which has prevented them from developing what could become very viable industries.

However, there is good news. In spite of all these obstacles, one study found that Nepal is outpacing neighbors India and Bangladesh in reducing poverty. So the improved stability of life after the war has produced some gains.

4. Geographical Challenges

To be fair again to Nepal’s government, they face tough challenges other countries don’t have to deal with as they work to overcome these other causes of poverty.

For one, much of the nation is mountainous, and constructing roads and building infrastructure is expensive and difficult in many regions. Second, Nepal is landlocked, so the easy shipment of goods via the ocean isn’t available to them. These twin challenges make systemic change tougher to implement.

Many friends of WPC Nepal have visited Nepal, and we can tell you that if their government could build just one modern, well-constructed highway through a few of their mountain passes, the economic growth potential those few roads would unleash could transform the nation.

It takes 5 – 6 hours just to travel between Kathmandu and Hetauda, even though they are only separated by about 54 miles. See map here.

Goods and services could be shipped at a far faster rate with one good road between these cities.

5. Lack of Health Care

Especially in most of the rural parts of the country, where about 75% of the people live, health care is hard to come by. As Nisha Tamang reveals in her story of overcoming poverty in Nepal, the rural area where she grew up had no health care at all. If you became severely ill, you had to hope local herbal remedies, or time, would heal you. Otherwise, you might die.

Losing family members to illness and early death can cripple their earning power and plunge the children into desperate poverty.

6. Lack of Access to Education

There are schools in Nepal. The problem is, they aren’t free, and many Nepalis cannot afford to send their kids. Of those who can afford it, they may not be able to afford it for all their kids. In that situation, guess who gets left out of school first?


So what happens when those girls grow up with no education and no skills? A greater dependence on family, men, and governments to help them. When these fail to deliver, desperation ensues, fueling the trafficking networks.

This is why Friends of WPC Nepal places so much priority in helping not just the kids in our safe home attend school, but also children in the surrounding communities who can’t afford the fees or supplies. We want all kids to attend school. Right now, about two thirds of adults in Nepal cannot read or write. This must change, and you can help change it.

If you want to pay the monthly costs for one Nepali child to attend school, it’s just $35 per month for everything. Here are some photos of kids you can sponsor from around Hetauda who can’t afford school.

7. Lack of Good Jobs

So many women who attend our 6-month Vocational Tailoring Program do so because they cannot find any jobs that pay a decent wage. This is one of the primary drivers of overseas labor trafficking of Nepali adults.

They get drawn to job opportunities, often in Arab nations or India, and these turn out to be slave labor, with no wages, long hours, and no way of escaping. Many Nepalis work exhaustively until they get injured or die. Often, their families back home see none of the money they went there to earn, and they never hear from them again. Others end up trafficked in prostitution.

In Nepal, underemployment sits at around 47% according to GSD. That means about half of Nepalis are not earning a living wage, even though they have jobs.

Our vocational program is changing that for dozens of women every year, because they now qualify for higher paying jobs, and they can also start their own businesses, just like Nisha Tamang, Pramila, and many others have.

Read Nisha’s inspiring story here!

8. Lack of Industry

Why are there so few good jobs in Nepal? Nepal possesses abundant natural resources and could have a thriving tourism sector, but they have not been able to establish a healthy array of industries.

Part of the reason goes back to interference and domination by China and India. Rather than develop products at the local level, they import them. Over half of Nepal’s goods are imported from other countries, mostly India.

It costs more to start new industrial production in Nepal than it does to just keep importing it. But the consequence of this is a scarcity of good, stable jobs.

9. Feudalistic Land System

Much of the land in Nepal is owned by a tiny minority of wealthy landowners. About 25% of households own no land.

The restrictions caused by this make it hard for the majority to build any kind of financial foundation for their families.

10. The Caste System

Though the caste system was officially ended some time ago in Nepal, it still dominates the culture in many places, especially in rural areas. Low castes such as Dalits face mistreatment and an appalling lack of opportunity.

We have kids in our safe home whose parents died, but their other relatives who took them in would treat them terribly because they came from a lower caste. Lower caste people have an even harder time getting and keeping good jobs.

One key solution to this is education for kids, and job skill training for adults. And that’s why Women’s Protection Center Nepal devotes so many of the donations we receive from people like you to these programs.

Dispelling the ‘Poverty Identity’

The GSD Magazine article from earlier included an insightful quote from a Nepali panelist who was part of a discussion about causes of poverty in Nepal. Here’s what he said:

“In fact, poverty has become one of the identities of Nepal. If you browse any internet search engine and try to get general information about Nepal, it is very likely that you will get a sentence starting as ‘Nepal is one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world….’”

Though this may be factually true, imagine seeing this characterization of your country in every description you read about it.

You would begin to adopt this as a concession that ‘this is just the way things are.’

At Friends of WPC Nepal, we reject this poverty identity. We believe all women can gain skills, get good jobs, and start businesses. We believe all men can do the same. We believe all children should attend school, be fed healthy meals every day, be loved, cared for, and valued, regardless of caste or family situation or past.

Though many of these ten causes of poverty in Nepal are complex, and the solutions would require systemic change, much of this change begins at the local level – one person at a time.

As WPC Nepal churns out more kids who are learning and completing school, as we equip more women with job skills and business-starting confidence, as we protect more women and men from overseas labor trafficking – we (and you when you donate) are increasing the stability, the ability, and the capacity for economic growth and relational health in Nepali communities.

Want to be part of the transformation of the nation of Nepal?

Start here.

Donate to Friends of WPC Nepal.

Send a child to school.

Protect a child from human trafficking in the safe home.

Make it possible for an illiterate Nepali woman to attend the Tailoring Program.

You can overcome the causes of poverty in Nepal for one person. And that is enough to change everything.